An Introduction to Nursing Home Neglect and Abuses
Neglect is the mother of all nursing home abuses. It is the worst nightmare for any spouse or adult child of a vulnerable elderly person.
When the time comes, and it does for most of us, when we can no longer provide for the care of our parents or other elderly relatives in our home, we must place them in an extended care facility. This could be a nursing home or an assisted living facility that provides for the extra care our loved-one needs. We trust that our choice of facility was a careful one and that the people to whom we’ve entrusted our elder will provide the tender care deserved by somebody who has dedicated his/her life to us.
Sadly, this trust is not always warranted.
In February of 2018, the State of Georgia was shaken and shamed by the release of a video of a dying World War II veteran pleading for help with his last breaths. The video was taken in an Atlanta area nursing home by a camera the family had hidden in the room. The family suspected that their father was not properly cared for and hid the video camera to capture what they suspected were abuses by the staff. The video documented that workers ignored the dying man’s pleas for help as he died in distress.
The video was taken in 2015. The cruel workers who laughed as the old man died kept their jobs and their licenses for nearly three years before they were finally indicted for elder abuse. They were left as predators to “protect” other vulnerable elderly people
There are many lessons to be learned from this tragic story, but perhaps the most important one is that if you have a loved-one living in a nursing or assisted living facility, they may not be receiving the care they deserve.
We would all like to believe that when we place our loved ones in a facility dedicated to the care we can no longer provide, those precious elders are in good hands. The story related is bound to give us the cold chills. Add to that the fact that a full 44 percent of the nursing homes in Georgia have a rating of two stars or less and we can barely sleep at night. (Source: SkilledNursingFacilities.org)
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) one in ten Americans over 60 has been victimized by nursing home abuse or neglect. They further report that elderly men and women who have been the victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, along with prevalent neglect experience a 300 percent higher risk of death. The problem is many of the symptoms of nursing home abuse can be similar to the ordinary signs of aging. Often, this will make it harder to tell the the actual cause of the condition.
To further complicate the detection of such abuses, not all abuses leave marks or other hints that our loved ones are being victimized. Neglect, whether it is overt and willful, or a sad consequence of staffing deficiencies or under-trained personnel, is the cause of unsanitary conditions, viral and bacterial infections, parasite infestations, malnutrition, dehydration, and often death.
Because it is not instantly obvious, chronic neglect may take some time to manifest itself in ways that are as deadly as the physical abuses which result in broken bones and other injuries that can be fatal in older patients.
When a nursing home begins to cut financial corners, bad things happen. Eventually the quality of the personnel suffers. Having a lower ratio of staff to residents means your loved one may be spending more time without supervision or necessary care. He or she may spend too much time alone lying in a soiled bed in want of immediate attention that doesn’t come. This can lead to many life-threatening issues.
Ordinary hiring protocols can be tossed out the window leaving your loved one to suffer at the hands of unprofessional or undertrained staff. (In some cases, we’ve seen background checks and criminal records go without even rudimentary verification. The results of such neglect can mean a whole new set of horrors for the innocent victims.)
As this series continues, we will take some of the egregious abuses that occur in Georgia nursing facilities one-by-one to help you know how to counter such conditions. In the meanwhile here are some answers to questions about nursing home neglect.
If you have a loved one in a Georgia nursing home, you must be engaged and vigilent at all times. The nursing home and every staff member must know that you are paying careful attention to what they do, and documenting what they fail to do.
As the result of the Nursing Home Reform Act, the result of a 1986 Congressional review, all nursing homes in the United States must provide the following basic rights to their patients:
- To be free of neglect, negligence or abusive care and treatment
- To be free of improper restraints
- To have their physical, social, and medical or psychological needs addressed and met
- To be offered the ability to participate in resident groups, such as resident and family
- The right to live with dignity
- The ability of self-determination
- To communicate freely
- To participate in the review of a patient’s care plan, and be informed of changes in treatment, of a change in the facility status, or other care changes
- To be free to voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal.
If you feel that the nursing home in which your loved one resides is failing to provide any of these very basic human rights, you may have a case.
Your best friend in proving nursing home neglect may be your cell phone. Documentation, especially photographic evidence of such abuses, is a critical component in all law suits. When you visit your nursing home resident, take photos of the conditions and of your loved one using a date/time stamp. Chances are the bruises will have healed by the time your case comes to court. Your photos will be beyond important. Such photos can provide vital evidence of your loved-one’s deterioration if the neglect continues.
Take pictures of unsanitary conditions like overflowing trash containers or uncleaned bathrooms. If your loved-one has pressure ulcers, otherwise called bed-sores, photograph them if you can. Do this week to week so that progressive injury can be demonstrated. Since these injuries are a major cause of suffering and even death, don’t hesitate to demand that extra steps be taken to alleviate the pressure that causes them. If you see that nothing is being done, take your loved one to another facility. (Then call your personal injury lawyer.)
By all means, make complaints. Verbal complaints are fine, but follow up every time with a written letter – keep a copy for your file. (If evidence of neglect continues, we urge you to send these letters via certified mail so that you have a reliable record of delivery.) Take names of nurses and other staff who do not demonstrate a commitment to the care and comfort of the resident. Let them see you write it all down – this may be enough to keep them on the straight and narrow path.
Document every instance or symptom of abuse or neglect. If your elder has a complaint, record it on a pocket recorder in case it might be needed later. If there are new bandages or bruises, find out how and when the injury occurred from your resident, then confirm the story with the administration. Write it all down. The more overt you are with your watchdog duties, the more positive attention your elderly loved one will get.
It often happens that nursing home residents will not speak out about neglect or abuse because they are afraid of retribution. If your vulnerable nursing home resident has such a fear, it is all the more important that you take all steps to find out why. Is it a particular staff member who doesn’t respond to requests or needs? Have any other residents complained about this staffer? You’ll want to get all the information you can about that particular employee. (Chances are the nursing home will not give you much information beyond his/her name and position, but your personal injury lawyer has the tools and the power to get all the details including other complaints.)
In a Georgia courtroom, how do insurance companies and lawyers assign a value for these injuries and the suffering they cause?
The law in Georgia – just like the law in the United States of America – is extremely concerned with the care of our vulnerable citizens. Those who are defenseless, including children and elders are due and actually receive special consideration in the courtroom. Abuse of either of these groups doesn’t sit well with judges or juries. Nevertheless, the value placed upon the suffering your loved-one has endured will depend upon the quality of your documentation. Be as detailed and dedicated in your documentation as you can be in order to eliminate any doubt of that neglect.
It may be that your injury attorney will need the testimony of experts to explain the mental and physical pain associated with dehydration or malnutrition. A psychologist may be called in to detail the fearful consequences that come from threats made or even intimated against a frail, defenseless person. And, the feelings of hopelessness and despair your elderly parent experienced will also impact the ultimate value of your case.
In cases such as these, your own suffering will be important as well. The feelings of frustration and your angst over your inability to protect your loved one from harm should also be considered as part of the damages. The time you must spend away from work or from your family in order to ensure your elder’s proper care has value as well.
If your loved one dies as a result of the nursing home’s neglect, you may have a wrongful death case to bring before the case.
All of these things will be taken into consideration in the final analysis or decision.
If you suspect that the care of a loved one in a Georgia nursing home or assisted living facility is being neglected, please take all the steps outlined here to let the nursing home know that you are alarmed by the circumstances and require changes to be made. Don’t be bashful or at all hesitant to demand the highest standard of care. Take pictures and notes. Then, if you’re not satisfied that changes for the better are being made, contact a personal injury attorney.
At The Millar Law Firm, we will review the facts in your case at no charge to you. We are dedicated to protecting and advocating for the rights of seniors who, through no fault of their own, find themselves at the mercy of uncaring others. Fragile elders should never be the victims of neglect or suffer the many terrible consequences of a poor standard of care.
Allow us the opportunity to help make your loved one’s final years free from fear and suffering.